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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#15 LSU Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#15

SEC West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Les Miles, 103-29 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Cam Cameron | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Steele

LSU owns one of the nation’s most talented rosters, but key question marks remain for Les Miles’ team in 2015. Will the offense take a step forward after ranking 13th in the SEC in scoring last season? Getting better play from its quarterbacks would help, but the Tigers finished spring with uncertainty under center. On defense, LSU has a new coordinator in Kevin Steele and needs to revive a pass rush that registered only 19 sacks in 2014.

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Previewing LSU’s Offense for 2015
 

Another spring in Baton Rouge and another quarterback controversy after 2014 provided little to no clarity in the race between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Coach Les Miles said the two quarterbacks split the snaps in the spring but indicated that Jennings — who completed only 49 percent of his passes last season — had the upper hand in closed scrimmages. Maturity issues and a failure to learn the playbook plagued Harris last season, and he’s admitted as much. Jennings heads into the fall as the frontrunner, but the position is far from settled.

Miles claims that tailback Leonard Fournette is bigger and stronger after almost a full year in the Tigers’ strength and conditioning program, so expect the Tigers to abandon the committee approach and allow the former five-star recruit to handle the majority of the work. He is poised for a huge season.

Poor quarterback play limited the production of a young but talented group of wide receivers. Travin Dural, who led the team with 37 receptions for 758 yards, was the only Tiger to catch more than 17 passes in 2014. Malachi Dupre, a top recruit in 2014, is poised for a breakout season if he can stay healthy.

The Tigers lose two valuable members of their offensive line but are well-equipped to move forward without taking a step back. Jerald Hawkins has the unenviable task of replacing three-year starter La’el Collins at left tackle. Hawkins has started every game he’s played at LSU but now must shift from right to left tackle. 

Previewing LSU’s Defense for 2015 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The moniker “DB U.” is tossed around Baton Rouge as each new crop of defensive backs expects to be as good as their past teammates now in the NFL. Cornerback Tre’Davious White, the leader of not only the secondary but also the entire defense, is bringing along Ed Paris and early enrollee Kevin Toliver II to carry on the tradition. “We’re still DB U. It’s just different cats,” Paris said during the spring. Jalen Mills, a former Freshman All-American as a cornerback, and Jamal Adams will form a dynamic safety duo in what figures to be one of the most talented secondaries in the SEC.

Issues surrounded the inexperienced LSU defensive line from the start in 2014 as an endless rotation of players made it difficult for the unit to have any continuity. Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux have settled in nicely at defensive tackle, but there is concern at defensive end. With new coordinator Kevin Steele’s experience in a 3-4 base defense, the Tigers may play more three-man fronts as they continue to search for playmaking ends.

The insertion of true freshman Kendell Beckwith into the lineup at Florida ignited the LSU linebacker corps, a unit maligned during much of 2014 for its inability to play sideline to sideline. Beckwith, the team’s second-leading tackler in 2014, brings a youthful energy and a ton of athleticism to the middle linebacker spot.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Previewing LSU’s Specialists for 2015 
 

The once-automatic Colby Delahoussaye struggled late in his sophomore season, missing three of his final four attempts. He will battle classmate Trent Domingue for the placekicking duties in preseason camp. Jamie Keehn returns as the Tigers’ punter.

Final Analysis 
 

It’s pretty simple: LSU needs much better play from the quarterback position in 2015. Whoever gets the starting nod must improve on an anemic passing attack that failed to throw for more than 150 yards in seven of eight SEC games. Fournette is a star, but he can’t carry an entire offense on those broad shoulders. The defense, led by a top-flight secondary, will be strong — if not elite like LSU defenses of the recent past. The Tigers are talented enough to be a factor in the rugged SEC West — only if the passing offense improves.

The Debate

Is LSU's Leonard Fournette the Best Running Back in the SEC?

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Ranking the SEC's Offensive Triplets for 2015

Auburn takes the No. 1 spot in the SEC.
Ranking the SEC's Offensive Triplets for 2015

Proven offensive talent is plentiful in the SEC this year. Quarterback Dak Prescott should be among the frontrunners to earn first-team All-America honors, while running back Nick Chubb is one of the leading candidates to win the Heisman. Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell should be back at 100 percent after a leg injury ended his 2014 season.

Penn State DT Anthony Zettel Tackles a Tree

Zettel destroyed this tree in a perfect tackle.
Penn State DT Anthony Zettel Tackles a Tree

Penn State’s Anthony Zettel is one of the top defensive tackles in the nation. The Michigan native recorded 17 tackles for a loss and eight sacks in 13 games last season.

 

Despite his huge 2014 campaign, Zettel isn’t sitting idle this offseason. Instead, Zettel is keeping in shape by tackling a tree.

 

Showing proper tackling form, here’s a short video from Zettel just destroying a tree:
 

After falling to LeBron again, the Chicago Bulls face a complex future

What's next for the Chicago Bulls?

The Chicago Bulls had their best chance of the century, this year, to get through the Eastern Conference and fight for a title in the NBA Finals. But after an incredibly dispiriting 94-73 loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, it would appear this iteration of the Bulls is all but done, and facing a ton of change this summer. The Bulls lost their series to Cleveland 4-2.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#16 Arkansas Razorbacks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#16

SEC West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Bret Bielema, 10-15 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dan Enos | DEF. COORDINATOR: Robb Smith

Arkansas showed significant improvement in Bret Bielema’s second year and finished the 2014 season by winning four out of its last six games. The Razorbacks should be even better in 2015 with the return of quarterback Brandon Allen, one of the nation’s top backfields and offensive lines. The front seven on defense must be retooled, but there’s enough talent to keep this unit near the top of the SEC.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
 

Previewing Arkansas’ Offense for 2015
 

Brandon Allen is in line to become Arkansas’ first three-year starting quarterback since Matt Jones (2002-04), but he’s working on his fourth offensive coordinator in five years with the arrival of Dan Enos. If Allen marginally improves on his 2014 passing numbers — 2,285 yards, 20 touchdowns, five interceptions — the Razorbacks could make a huge leap.

Arkansas sports the FBS’ only tandem 1,000-yard rushers from last season in Jonathan Williams (1,190 yards) and Alex Collins (1,100), who each rushed for 12 touchdowns. The duo should be just as dynamic this fall running behind a line that returns four starters. The front wall has undergone a shake-up, with former guard Denver Kirkland now at left tackle and Dan Skipper swapping sides to right tackle. Left guard Sebastian Tretola, who gained national publicity for his touchdown pass on a fake field goal last year, returns in better physical condition next to center Mitch Smothers. Frank Ragnow is the top candidate to take over at right guard, and the Razorbacks should have quality depth.

Keon Hatcher returned to lead the receiving corps, which is in need of game-breaking talent. Signee Dominique Reed and redshirt freshman Jojo Robinson should provide a spark to a unit that also brings back Jared Cornelius, Cody Hollister, Drew Morgan and converted quarterback Damon Mitchell.

Hunter Henry again leads the tight end corps, which also features Jeremy Sprinkle and signee Will Gragg, the brother of ex-Hog Chris Gragg of the Buffalo Bills.

Previewing Arkansas’ Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Arkansas shook off about a decade of sluggish play from its defense to rank 10th nationally in yards allowed per game, an improvement of 66 spots. Second-year coordinator Robb Smith re-upped with a handsome raise and is confident the Razorbacks can plug rising stars into the system and remain productive despite the loss of key players such as Trey Flowers, Darius Philon, Martrell Spaight and Alan Turner.

Up front, breakout star Taiwan Johnson has moved from nose guard to defensive tackle to create room for Bijhon Jackson and DeMarcus Hodge. Ends Deatrich Wise Jr. and JaMichael Winston are prepared for larger roles and the leadership mantle. Junior college transfer Jeremiah Ledbetter should have an impact.

Brooks Ellis slides from middle linebacker to the weak-side spot from which Spaight racked up an SEC-best 128 tackles. Junior Josh Williams and sophomores Khalia Hackett and Randy Ramsey (if he returns from suspension) should have increased playing time at linebacker.

Corners Jared Collins, D.J. Dean and Henre’ Toliver have proven to be solid SEC cover men. Rohan Gaines brings veteran experience at strong safety, and sophomore Josh Liddell could be the kind of heavy-hitting free safety the Razorbacks have lacked for years.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Previewing Arkansas’ Specialists for 2015
 

Toby Baker and signee Blake Johnson are vying to replace punter Sam Irwin-Hill. Adam McFain has the experience edge over Lane Saling and Cole Hedlund for placekicking duties. Cornelius is the punt returner after showing promise as a freshman, and Hatcher has experience on kickoff returns.

Final Analysis
 

Arkansas should be more dynamic and more efficient with Allen back for his third season as the starter operating in front of a top-flight offensive line. The defense, despite some key losses in the front seven, should once again be strong. To emerge as a legitimate contender in the rough-and-tumble SEC West, the Hogs must find a way to win on the road in league play (something they haven’t done since October 2012) and learn how to win close games (they haven’t won an SEC game decided by a touchdown or less since October 2011).

The Debate

Are Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams the Nation's Top Running Back Duo?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#17 Oklahoma Sooners

NATIONAL FORECAST

#17

Big 12 PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Bob Stoops, 168-44 (16 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lincoln Riley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Stoops

Oklahoma entered 2014 with high expectations and hopes of winning the Big 12 title. But the Sooners finished 8-5 and a 5-4 mark in conference play, forcing coach Bob Stoops to make a few changes to his staff. Lincoln Riley is now the play-caller on offense and plans on implementing a spread attack similar to what he coordinated at East Carolina. However, the offense will still feature running back Samaje Perine. Oklahoma isn’t short on talent, but Stoops and his staff have to replace four starters on the offensive line and improve a secondary that allowed 24 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
 

Previewing Oklahoma’s Offense for 2015
 

When Lincoln Riley arrived to overhaul Oklahoma’s offense as coordinator, the immediate question was obvious: Who fit as a triggerman for the spread attack he used to create misery against better competition at East Carolina? That’s still the question, although indicators point to Baker Mayfield, the former Texas Tech walk-on and transfer.

None of four quarterbacks — Mayfield, returning starter Trevor Knight or youngsters Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen — did enough to seize the job in the spring. Mayfield looks the part as a pocket passer who has already directed the spread at Tech. But he was prone to throwing interceptions at Tech and tossed two in the spring game. “When I was able to get the ball in our receivers’ hands, they made plays for me,” Mayfield says. “Now I just have to keep improving and finding ways to get them the ball.”

If the quarterback concerns extend into the season, the Sooners always have Plan B. Or is it Plan A? The Big 12’s best back as a freshman a year ago, Samaje Perine is a throwback, downhill runner who can dominate and dictate games. Oklahoma rode him hard last fall when the passing game stalled, resulting in solid success, as he ran for a league-leading 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns. The running game also features the speedy Alex Ross, as well as Joe Mixon, a five-star recruit forced to spend a year away from the team after an ugly off-the-field incident last summer.

Sterling Shepard provides a game-breaker at receiver, but it’s critical that others emerge to fit the four-wide scheme.

The offensive line has something to prove, too, and is working to find replacements at both tackles. Returning starters Ty Darlington at center and Nila Kasitati at guard provide a veteran core.

Previewing Oklahoma’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big 12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The defense presents a mix of star power and major question marks. And the questions begin up front, where the decision by Jordan Phillips to leave early for the NFL leaves a gaping hole at tackle. Sophomore Charles Walker alleviated some concern inside with a strong spring. And the ends are solid with Charles Tapper, Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward providing a versatile rotation. But will it be a dynamic front?

At linebacker, Eric Striker sets the tone of the defense as an attacking ball hawk and game-plan wrecker. A first-team All-Big 12 selection, Striker led the Sooners with 17 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. And Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans return as the team’s top two tacklers, making the middle a major strength.

The secondary must improve, even with first team all-conference corner Zack Sanchez back to rule his side of the field. Sanchez led the team with six interceptions and eight pass breakups. Sophomore Steven Parker is a rising star at safety or as the nickel, but the Sooners are searching for reliable playmakers at the other corner and safety spots.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Oklahoma’s Specialists for 2015
 

Replacements at placekicker and punter are needed, and both jobs could fall to incoming freshman Austin Seibert, who was ranked No. 1 at each spot by one recruiting service or another. The return game could be explosive, with Ross proving himself dangerous on kickoffs, averaging 31.2 per runback a year ago. Dede Westbrook and Shepard, slotted to return punts, are also dynamic with the ball in their hands.

Final Analysis
 

Much uncertainty surrounds the Sooners entering 2015. Can Mayfield efficiently engineer the offense? And if not, who can? Can the defense fix a leaky secondary that allowed too many big passing plays? The schedule is rough, too, with road games at Tennessee, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State. A lot of questions. And it’s unclear whether the Sooners have all the answers.

The Debate

Is Samaje Perine the Big 12's Best Running Back in 2015?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#18 Ga. Tech Yellow Jackets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#18

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 59-35 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof

Georgia Tech suffered some key losses in the backfield and at receiver, but coach Paul Johnson’s team is positioned for another run at the Coastal Division title. The Yellow Jackets return 13 starters, with the most important being quarterback Justin Thomas. The defense ranked near the bottom of the ACC in the four main statistical categories but improvement should be noticeable in 2015.  

Follow AthlonSports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Offense for 2015
 

Georgia Tech’s disappointing 2013 season raised questions about the direction of the program heading into last fall. That was particularly true on offense, where Paul Johnson attempted to customize his option playbook for quarterback Vad Lee’s throwing ability with mediocre results. With Justin Thomas at the controls in 2014, however, the Yellow Jackets got back to a more traditional option look and became as dangerous on offense by the end of the season as at any time in Johnson’s tenure.

With Thomas’ speed, elusiveness and intelligence, Georgia Tech should once again be among the nation’s most prolific rushing teams. Thomas has a chance to exceed his single-season school record (for quarterbacks) of 1,086 rushing yards and solidify his status as one of the nation’s must-watch players. 

Georgia Tech loses its running back trio of Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins, who accounted for 377 carries and 2,218 yards last season. But most of those concerns will be eased by the depth on the offensive line — four starters and a handful of others with experience return — and the talent that has been groomed to replace them. A-back Broderick Snoddy showed big-play ability in a limited role before breaking his leg last season. However, depth at B-back is a concern after C.J. Leggett, the expected starter, was sidelined with a torn ACL in the spring. Patrick Skov – a graduate transfer from Stanford – is expected to factor into the backfield this season.

Georgia Tech will also look for young receivers to step up after losing DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, who had a knack for making timely catches.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Johnson won’t sugarcoat the Jackets’ struggles on defense, particularly against the run. “We weren’t very good,” he says of a unit that gave up 25.7 points and 411.3 yards per game last year. Depth along the defensive front was a major concern, and it will likely remain that way. The good news for the Yellow Jackets is that their first team is solid with senior All-ACC performer Adam Gotsis anchoring the interior and KeShun Freeman coming off a season in which he earned various Freshman All-America honors at end. Johnson is counting on Jabari Hunt-Days, academically ineligible last season, to make a big impact after moving from end to tackle and bulking up to 295 pounds.

Losing All-ACC linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who contributed 92 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries last season, leaves a big hole in the middle of the defense. But the Yellow Jackets are hoping for some of the same attributes out of senior Tyler Marcordes, who had 5.5 tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks.

Georgia Tech should be solid in the secondary with senior safety Jamal Golden, who had 61 tackles and four interceptions. Georgia Tech remains stable at cornerback with seniors Chris Milton and D.J. White, who was involved in game-saving takeaways against Virginia Tech and Georgia. 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Specialists for 2015
 

Georgia Tech is looking for more consistency out of junior kicker Harrison Butker, who made some high-pressure kicks — such as a 53-yarder at Georgia to send the game to overtime — but also had five misses inside 40 yards. Junior punter Ryan Rodwell returns after an ACC-low 32 attempts last season.

Final Analysis 
 

Coming off an 11-win season capped by a dominant Orange Bowl victory, there are more positive vibes and higher expectations around the program than any time in recent memory. Though Tech will need to re-tool in some areas, having Thomas for two more years means the offense will continue to be potent. Defense is always a question mark for the Yellow Jackets because they don’t have overwhelming athletes, but if Ted Roof’s unit makes even incremental improvement, another ACC Coastal Division title is well within reach. 

The Debate

Is Justin Thomas the ACC's Best QB for 2015?

Click here to join the debate.




Ranking the Big 12's Running Backs for 2015

Baylor's Shock Linwood is among the league's best.
Ranking the Big 12's Running Backs for 2015

The Big 12 had just three players rush for 1,000 yards in 2014, which was the fewest amount by a Power 5 conference. However, all three players – Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Baylor’s Shock Linwood and Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington – are back in 2015.

 

Bryce Harper Finally Flashing MVP Form for Washington Nationals

The explosive 22-year old phenom is finally giving Nats fans the show they’ve been waiting for
Bryce Harper Finally Flashing MVP Form for Washington Nationals

The hype surrounding Bryce Harper has been snowballing since 2009 when the words “Chosen One” were plastered next to his wiry, 16-year-old frame on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#21 Miss. St. Bulldogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#21

SEC West PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Dan Mullen , 46-31 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy | DEF. COORDINATOR: Manny Diaz

Mississippi State is coming off one of the best seasons in school history. But with only seven returning starters, can the Bulldogs contend for 10 wins and the SEC West title once again? Don’t count out coach Dan Mullen’s team in 2015, especially with a Heisman contender in quarterback Dak Prescott.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
 

Previewing Mississippi State’s Offense for 2015 
 

The biggest reason Mississippi State and its fans believe 2014 wasn’t a one-hit wonder is Dak Prescott, who set 12 single-season records during his breakout junior campaign. He became the first Bulldog ever to finish a season with more than 3,000 total yards, piling up 4,470. This year he’ll be asked to do even more, but with less around him. Three quarterbacks wait in the wings for their opportunity next season — junior Damian Williams and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley.

The Bulldogs must replace running back Josh Robinson and his 1,203 rushing yards. Ashton Shumpert ended last year with some momentum, gaining 207 yards in the final four games of the regular season. The job won’t be handed to him, however. Redshirt freshmen Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams are fighting for time, and true freshman and early enrollee Malik Dear also got some reps in the spring.

De’Runnya Wilson returns as one of the top receivers in the SEC. He caught 47 passes for 680 yards and nine scores last season. Slot receiver Jameon Lewis must be replaced. Top candidates are Gabe Myles and junior college transfer Donald Gray.

There’s no bigger question for Mississippi State heading into 2015 than the offensive line. The Bulldogs must identify new starters at tackle, guard and center. They have replacements at guard and tackle but lost all three of their centers to graduation.

Previewing Mississippi State’s Defense for 2015 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Bulldogs are without three starters on the defensive front heading into 2015, but the losses look worse on paper than in reality. Chris Jones, arguably the team’s most talented defensive player, technically did not start last year and will slide into one of the open spots at tackle. The losses at end, however, could be a bit of an issue. Preston Smith takes his team-high nine sacks and 15 tackles for a loss to the NFL. Senior Ryan Brown will be asked to replace Smith’s production.

Gerri Green, a talented redshirt freshman, is in position to take over for Benardrick McKinney at middle linebacker. The coaches love his potential, but replacing the best player on the defense is a lot to ask. Outside backer Beniquez Brown, who finished second on the team in tackles last season, will be asked to replace McKinney’s production and leadership. MSU’s coaches and players rave about his football IQ.

Mississippi State’s defense allowed the most passing yards in the SEC last year. The Bulldogs lose three starters from the secondary, including both safeties. Kivon Coman and Deontay Evans worked at safety with the first-team defense during spring practice. Freshman Jamal Peters will be tough to keep off the field when he arrives in the fall. Taveze Calhoun, who started all 13 games at corner last season, did not participate in the spring due to injury but will be good to go in the fall.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Specialists 
 

Mississippi State found a reliable option at kicker in 2014 after a disastrous 2013. Unfortunately, that option is not available in 2015. Evan Sobiesk, who made 12-of-14 attempts last year, left the team to pursue a career in dentistry. Devon Bell, the punter, is the only player on the roster with a made field goal in his career, but he has converted only 6-of-14 attempts. Bell returned to field-goal kicking in the spring.

Final Analysis 
 

Mississippi State loses seven starters on offense and eight on defense. That much turnover won’t be easy to overcome. The expectations with the fans won’t change, though, after they tasted the promised land last year with a No. 1 ranking. Prescott, one of the best players in the SEC, will be able to mask a lot of the holes. How many and how well could decide the Bulldogs’ season. 

The Debate

Where Does Dan Mullen Rank Among SEC Coaches for 2015?

Click here to join the debate.




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